Thursday, February 22, 2018

Winter in the Wild in Algonquin Park

We attended Winter in the Wild last year and loved it so much that we decided we needed to return. Last year we stayed at a motel just outside the East Gate. It was nice, but we really wanted to stay in the park for the full experience. It's a totally different trip when you stay in the park.

This year's Winter in the Wild, at Algonquin Park, would be our second outing in our hot tent. We were really looking forward to it. We were a little disappointed as we left Thursday morning that it was foggy, rainy and generally very wet. That said, by the time we reached the East Gate of the park the rain was behind us and the rest of the day proved to be quite nice. We stopped in at the Visitor Centre for some lunch and a peak out the viewing deck then headed for the campground. When we arrived at Mew Lake the campground was fairly empty. We set up the tent then spent some time getting the interior of the tent set up. I think we're getting a little faster at this process and the kids are getting to be very helpful.

Tent Setup on a Huge Site
Once we were setup we split some wood so that we could get the fire going. After the chores were done we walked around the campground and checked things out. The skating rink was closed due to the warm temperatures as they were hoping to preserve the ice for the weekend. We headed back to have some chicken pot pie then clean up. We got some glow sticks out for the kids. They had fun playing with them as we walked through the campground. There weren't any clouds in the sky so the star gazing was incredible.

I think we're getting a little better at managing the fire in the wood stove but we could use a some more practice. I woke up every few hours, mostly because my nose was cold. I would roll out of bed throw more wood on the fire then, invariably, would have to go to the bathroom. The hike to the comfort station under the stars was always worth getting out of bed for. I figure I got a lot of exercise this way.

In the morning we cooked some cinnamon buns and bacon. On our last trip our daughter commented about how this wasn't exactly a healthy breakfast, but that didn't stop her from eating it this time. It takes a long time to cook bacon on a wood stove and dealing with all the grease is a bit of a pain. Next time I think we'll cook the bacon ahead of time and freeze it so that it just has to be heated.

Flooding the Rink With the Algonquin Zamboni
The plan for the morning was to head to the Fen Lake Ski Trail located at the West Gate of the park. We loaded up all the skis and headed out. When we arrived at the West Gate we discovered that the trails were closed due to the icy conditions (remember all the rain from the day before). This was the first time we've stopped at the west gate. We almost always come in from the East Gate so this was the first time that we saw the famous sign.

West Gate
After a quick trip into the gatehouse to purchase some badges we loaded up the van and headed back to our site. We stopped along the way to have a look at the cool looking ice formations along the highway.

Frozen Waterfall Along Highway 60

Ice Formations Along Highway 60
When we got back to our site we grabbed the skates and walked to the rink. We generally don't skate much so I thought this would be a quick thirty minute outing. As it turns out the kids loved it. They liked that they could skate or that they could grab a hockey stick and skate around with a puck. We played together and we played with some of the other kids. Things were going great until the puck I fired a little too hard at the net hit our son in the knee. He was done skating for the time being but his injury proved to be short lived.  He and Sarah headed back to the tent to prepare lunch while the girls (and I) were happy to continue skating. We stayed until well past when we might normally have had lunch and even then it was hard to get the girls off the ice.

First Time With a Stick on the Ice 

Official Puck Dropper

Looking for a Pass...

...and Waiting for a Return Pass

I've Got This

After lunch we walked to the airfield following the Old Rail Bike Trail. It's too bad the trail was so icy. It would have made for a great ski. It's flat but I think the kids would have enjoyed it.

On the Beaten Path and Off the Beaten Path

Who Needs Snowshoes

I expected that upon our return the kids would be too tired to do anything physical. Was I ever wrong. As soon as we got back all they wanted to do was skate some more. We grabbed our skates and headed back to the rink. One of the boys that we played with in the morning was still out on the ice having a great time.  Everyone out on the ice seemed so happy. I couldn't believe how much better our kids were getting at skating and moving a puck around. When we first stepped on the ice our four year old didn't want to skate without holding somebody's hand. Now, she was happily skating on her own and doing her own thing. We stayed into the early evening.

The campground had slowly been filling up over the course of the day. I was amazed to see just how many sites were already taken. Based on today's arrivals I was guessing that there wouldn't be many empty sites Saturday night.

Saturday was Algonquin's Winter in the Wild Festival. We were hoping to do a hike in the morning and then catch a presentation. We slept in a bit and took our time cooking up some pancakes. By the time we were finished and had cleaned up we didn't really have time for a hike. Instead we loaded up the car and headed to the Visitor Centre to see Marian & Hailey Sonntag do a presentation on Essentials to Beginning Winter Camping. They did a great job with their presentation. They are both so passionate about being outside and really want others to experience the joy of getting out in the winter. It was great of them to share their knowledge with us.

Getting the Rink Ready

Presentation by Marian & Hailey Sonntag

Following the presentation we headed back to our site for lunch and more skating. We were at the rink for the entire afternoon. The rink was quite busy due to Winter in the Wild but the skaters and hockey players managed to share the ice beautifully. It was so nice to be outside all day getting some fresh air along with a ton of exercise.

We grabbed some burgers and hot dogs at the the barbeque put on by the Friends of Algonquin Park then headed for the camp fire where we took in a presentation on wolves which included a hike out to the Old Airfield for a wolf howl. It was very cool to hear the naturalists call. We did hear something way off in the distance. I thought it was an owl but the naturalist said it may have been a wolf way off in the distance.

Sunday morning we hiked the 2.3 km Peck Lake Trail. It was a perfect day for a hike. The sun was shining and it was quite warm. The kids did a great job. The promise of snacks at certain trail markers was a good incentive for them to keep going.

Icy Section of the Trail

Post 4: The Snacking Post


Big Tree 
Photo Opportunity


Wood Pecker Hole

It was such a beautiful day that we had lunch outside. We had some soup and cooked some cornbread over the fire. Any guesses on where the kids wanted to go after lunch? If you said the rink, you were right. Our son and I spent the afternoon skating up and down the rink passing and shooting the puck. We tried to get our daughters in on the action but they were happy just skating with the puck or digging pucks out of the net. I feel like we all got so much better at skating and moving the puck around.

Moving the Puck

Break Time

Going to the Net

Having a Blast

Coming in for a Shot

Is Ice Chair Pushing an Olympic Event? If So These Girls Are Ready!

The Rink to Ourselves
At about 4:00 I tried to get the kids off the ice so that we could try out the skiing on the Old Railway Bike Trail. They were having no part of it. They were happy on the ice and weren't getting off. Sarah stayed with the kids while I got my skis and headed around the Old Airfield. The sun had softened the snow enough to make the skiing quite enjoyable. I went for a short ski then made my way back to the rink. When I arrived at the rink we pried the kids off the ice so that we could eat. What a great day!

Great Afternoon for Some Skiing

The Old Airfield 
Monday was another beautiful morning. The sun was shining and the temperature was climbing. We packed up a few things as we were getting breakfast ready, then ate. After eating we began packing things away. The kids were very helpful. Once we were all packed up we thanked the wardens for all their hard work over the weekend and told them that we would be back for more winter fun.

We had hoped to do a hike on the way out but as we were leaving the campground the rain started to come down so we headed for the Visitor Centre where we had lunch.

This trip was a great experience for us. We had the chance to see so many winter camping setups. It was incredible how full the campground was. I think I only counted eight empty sites (in the electrical portion of the campground) on Saturday night.  I was also blown away the amazing community of super friendly people. Everyone said "hi" as they walked past. People were happy to tell you about their setups and share tips and tricks and in the evening there was always a happy crowd gathered around a fire sharing stories of both winter and summer camping adventures. It was truly amazing community to experience.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Solo Ski at Ferris Park

This weekend was shaping up to be one of the best for outdoor activities this winter. There has been a good amount of snow this week. In fact, it seems like it has non-stop snowed for the past two days. The temperature has been just a little below the freezing point. It seemed like a great weekend to get out and enjoy the wintry weather.

The only problem seemed to be that our two daughters woke up sick, our son was exhausted from his school ski trip yesterday and my wife is (hopefully) getting over her cold. When I asked at breakfast who wanted to do some cross country skiing today, our son was the only one that was keen. He changed his mind a short while later, saying that he was too tired. That meant, unfortunately, I'd be headed out on my own. 

I gathered my skis and headed for Ferris Provincial Park. In the past I've accessed the park from the east side of the river where the gate house is. This is the second winter that the gate at the road has been closed so I proceed to access from the west side by at the suspension bridge.

I crossed the bridge, strapped on my skis and had a great ski throughout the park. While in the park I had a few snowmobiles pass me while I was on the Trans Canada Trail and I saw one person on snowshoes heading in as I was heading out.

I captured some video, but not as much as I had expected. When I changed the camera battery about midway through my trip I must not have hit record. It's too bad that the most exciting parts were on the second half of the trip. In any case, here's some footage from my great day of skiing.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Winter Camping at Silent Lake

We decided that for this past Christmas we would get a hot tent. We've set it up in the yard and spent the night in it (a cold one at that) to make sure we knew how everything worked. The time to test the tent out in the wild finally came last Wednesday.

We packed up the van (as well as the car) and headed for Silent Lake Provincial Park. Silent Lake offers a number of options for a winter stay. They have a new set of cabins, as well as a number of different yurts. These roofed accommodations seem quite busy so be sure to book early. In addition, the park also offers winter camping. They have electrical sites that you can drive into and non-electrical sites that you have to hike to. If you wish to winter camp you don't need to book ahead, as they have a good number of sites available.

The comfort station located at the day-use area is open in the winter. It is close to the cabins but would be a long walk from the yurts or winter camping sites. Vault toilets are available in the campgrounds.

Silent Lake
In terms of winter activities, the park officially offers 40 km of cross-country ski trails, some snowshoeing and ice fishing. We saw a number of people taking advantage of the frozen water. Some people hiked out onto the lake. Others shovelled off a section and created a skating rink. The thawing and freezing we had about a week ago made for some perfect ice. We even saw some kids sledding down the hill by the comfort station.

We arrived Wednesday around noon and as it turns out it snowed most of the day (Welcome back winter!). We began setting up our tent right away. The kids explored the site and played around in the snow. We probably should have had lunch first because after a while the kids started to get hungry and cold. We ended up pausing the tent setup so that we could get something to eat but then our four year old started to get really cold. We quickly put the rest of the tent together and got the fire going. Once the fire was going and everyone was happy we proceeded to setup the interior of the tent. The kids were happy to play around inside the tent building forts and playing games.

Loving All the Snow
After some time in the tent we headed outside. The kids decided to make snow sculptures. It was cool to see their creativity in action. 

All Setup
After the sculpting was done we headed inside for some sloppy Joes. They were filling and really hit the spot. We cleaned up, got ready for bed then read a story. I love it when all of our kids can be interested in the same book. Sarah brought along a book called Stick Cat: Cats in the City. All three kids were totally into the book and kept wanting to hear more. I had intended to go outside for a walk and perhaps take some pictures after the kids fell asleep, but I was exhausted and fell asleep shortly after they did. I woke up a few hours later to throw some wood on the fire and went back to bed. It was a fairly warm night but I did seem to wake up every few hours. While I was up I put more wood on the fire. I'm hoping that with a little more practice we'll find the optimal night time setup for the fire.

Thursday was our first full day in the park and I wanted to make the most of it. It started with some pancakes cooked on the wood stove. Our son was the master flapjack flipper. After breakfast we headed to the comfort station to get some water, do the dishes, brush our teeth and do some skiing.

Looking Across the Lake
Once we were ready to go, we hit the trail. 

It started as a perfect day for skiing. The sun was out and it was fairly warm. The trail followed the shoreline of the lake for the first part. It was very picturesque. 

We're Off
Trail Blazing
Over the Bridge

Looking Down Stream
We skied for a total of about an hour. The kids had had enough by this point. It probably just as well that we turned back when we did. The temperature had warmed up to above 0°C and the snow was clumping to the waxless skis.

We headed back to our site where the chicken noodle soup, that had been warming in the slow cooker, was waiting for us. This was the first time we've ever camped at a site with electricity and having a warm meal waiting for us upon our arrival was amazing.

After lunch our son and I made our way back to the comfort station and headed out onto the lake to do some ice fishing. Ice fishing is a new sport to us this winter. Our son has been very excited to try since last winter. He read a ton of books and is teaching me about fishing in the winter. It was very windy so we drilled our holes (the ice was 19" thick) and setup our shelter.
Even In Winter Parents Have Are Responsible
Ice Fishing
We fished for an hour or so but came up empty handed. So we packed up an headed back to the site. We split some more firewood then cooked some pasta and sausages.

I had to work on Friday so I got up early and headed out. Sarah and the kids stayed and enjoyed the day in the park. They did some reading, played some games and went for a couple of walks. One of their walks took them to the campground with the walk-in sites. They walked around and saw that some of the yurts were occupied but they didn't see any tents. It turned out that we were the only tenters in the park during our stay.

I arrived back at the site around 4:30. I was dressed for work and as a result I was quite chilled. We needed more firewood so we loaded up the van, stopped at the comfort station then picked up some wood at the gatehouse. Once back at our site we split the firewood which warmed me up nicely. Then I strapped on the snowshoes and followed what ended up being the easy ski trail. It was a great evening for a walk. 

Although it would have been nice to stay the entire weekend we had decided that Saturday should be our last day so that we could spend Sunday getting everything unpacked and put away. We woke up on Saturday and cooked up some bacon and cinnamon buns. As our eight year old daughter pointed out, this wasn't exactly a healthy breakfast.

After breakfast we went for a ski as a family. I had discovered that just down the road from our site we could connect to the ski trail. So off we went. We made it as far as the trail before our youngest daughter started complaining about cold feet. We usually bring along some hand and foot warmers on winter outings, but for whatever reason they didn't seem to be a priority for this trip (but will be for the next one).
One Last Family Ski
I took her back to the tent, got the fire going and then we read some stories. We packed up some of our stuff and tried to get a bit organized. After a while we drove to the comfort station to use the heated bathroom and to get some water. Sarah carried on with the kids and had a great ski.

Once everyone was back at the tent we packed up some more and had lunch. I was jealous that I didn't get to ski in the morning so I decided to sneak away for a quick ski. Our son decided to come along. We skied the 2.5 km loop opposite to the recommended direction. I think next time we'll go in the recommended direction.

Upon our return we furiously packed everything up and somehow managed to get it to fit in our vehicles.

Our first winter camping trip was a big success. We had a great time and are all looking forward to the next outing. One of the things I love most about coming back from a trip is having dinner together and talking about our favourite parts and things we could do next time to make the trip better.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Christmas Bird Count At Frontenac Provincial Park

Today we attended the Christmas Bird Count for Kids at Frontenac Provincial Park. We had intended to arrive early and ski before the bird count, have lunch and then do the bird count. As it turns out it was a slow morning for us and we didn't arrive at the park until noon. The bird count was to start at 1:00 so we decided to have lunch when we arrived.

At 1:00 Carolyn Bonta began a presentation about common birds found in the park in winter. She talked about how to identify them, along with some of their behaviours. It was a very informative presentation that was engaging for kids and adults alike. She had some specimens on hand so that we could see what the actual birds looked like and she played their calls so that we might be able to identify the birds by sound while out on the trail. 

Once the presentation was over we got into our outdoor gear and headed outside. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shinning, the temperature was around -6°C and there wasn't any wind. We couldn't have asked for a better day.

Looking Out Over South Otter Lake
The Boardwalk
As a group we made a couple of stops when someone heard or saw a bird. We spotted a number of chickadees and a pair of blue jays. We stopped along the boardwalk and Carolyn pointed out some trees that had been heavily used by woodpeckers at one time. Unfortunately, we didn't see any woodpeckers but we did happen to see some crows and ravens as we made our way across the boardwalk. As we were leaving the first boardwalk someone spotted a large bird way off in the distance. I didn't see it but some people said it may have been a turkey vulture. As we turned around to face the other direction we got to witness an amazing site. We saw a bald eagle being chased by a raven. We watched for a while as this chase went on and then noticed another large bird of prey approaching. Its colourings were completely different from the eagle but its size was comparable. We later hypothesized that it was likely a juvenile bald eagle given that both of the birds eventually flew off together. It was quite an amazing site to see.

Snow Covered Boardwalk

Fisher Tracks Leading Down the Creek
 We do a fair bit of hiking and see a lot of cool things but having Carolyn along for the hike was great. She was a fountain of knowledge and was happy to share and answer questions and she was great with the kids. We stopped to look at some footprints that travelled along the creek and she explained that they were fisher tracks and told us why they were fisher tracks. We saw a fair number of track along the creek and even saw where the fisher may have stopped for a drink of water.

A Seat Along the Boardwalk

A Bench 
 We kept hiking but didn't see many more birds. The people at the front of the group spotted a deer before it took off into the woods. Unfortunately, we were at the back and didn't see that deer. The kids saw a few as we drove into the park and there was another one close to the road as we drove out.

After the hike we had some hot chocolate, looked at the specimens and thanked Carolyn for her presentation. Then we headed to the parking lot to grab our skis so that we could ski along the Corridor Trail. There was just enough snow to be able to ski. It was a slow ski with the kids but that's probably a good thing as there were a number of rocks and roots that got uncovered as we skied. The older kids led the way and were having a great time. It was nice to have everyone out on skis again. The four year old had some trouble on the ups and downs but it won't be long until she's zipping along. She fell a lot but laughed about it every time. I love getting out as a family. It's so much fun.

At the Trail Head

Going Up
What a great day. We all had such a good time. The bird count was a great way to get outside and to learn a bit more about the birds in the park. There are lots of bird counts happening around the world at this time of year. If you're interested check out their website here.